Jim Taylor, who usually occupies this coveted space in our weekend edition, is off this week.
It’s an unfortunate week for Jim to be off because I’m certain he would have offered some respectful and intelligent observations about the 20-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York.
I’m not as good as Jim, but I will try.
I wish I could share the experience of being a thirtysomething journalist in a Canadian newsroom and my memories of when the story first came across the wire.
I can’t. I had the day off. I missed history in the making.
I was in the final six months of being a bachelor, home in my messy apartment doing housework (which I hate). It was unusual for me to be off on a Tuesday morning. The schedule just fell that way.
As I didn’t have cable or the internet (this was 2001 remember) and relied on rabbit ears for my television, I was listening to an all-oldies radio station as I vacuumed and picked up socks that were stuck between the cushions in my chesterfield.
“A plane has just hit the World Trade Center,” the radio DJ said, before playing “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison.
I didn’t think much of it, figuring it was a small two-seater that killed the pilot and maybe somebody inside an office.
A few moments later, the news department cut in explaining the significance of what had just happened. Next came a second plane, then the Pentagon.
I had to get to a TV and went next door and asked my neighbours if I could watch their television. They already had it on. I had never been in their apartment.
The aftermath is what I recall better than the actual events on the day of Sept. 11, 2001.
NFL games were postponed;
Schools cancelled field trips to the United States because it “wasn’t safe;”
Canadians had their feelings hurt when George W. Bush forgot to mention Canada in a speech thanking allied nations;
There was a military presence at landmarks and monuments around the world;
The stock market plummeted and people were frightened to travell
And racism reared its ugly head as school children with brown skin were being bullied.
Does this all sound all too familiar?
There were conspiracy theories, but nothing like today because in 2001, the internet was in its infancy stages.
A few weeks after 9/11, I braved the trip across the border because my soon-to-be wife and I had tickets to Neil Diamond that were purchased months earlier. We gave ourselves about four hours of leeway time because the Canada/U.S. borders were backed up for miles.
Neil opened (and closed) with “America,” then broke into “Brooklyn Roads,” “I Am, I Said,” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” — all songs about New York.
I’m sure he changed the intended set list of his tour following the attacks. It sounds incredibly cliche now (“Stand up for America!”), but at the time it was very powerful. Nothing says New York City more than Neil Diamond.
I remember the bravery and leadership by then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. To think, 20 years later, Neil Diamond would be cool and Giuliani a national punchline.
9/11 also forever changed the way the world conducted airline travel. Boarding lounges were off-limits to non-passengers. We had to take our shoes, and sometimes our belts, off when entering security. For a while, travellers had to arrive at an airport two to three hours before departure.
Thinking back to the months following the attacks, I can’t recall anyone screaming “lack of civil liberties” or staging freedom rallies like they are today during the era of mandatory vaccination cards.
If you want to fly, you are going to be inconvenienced. It’s still faster than driving.
I hope my words are not trivializing the loss of 3,000 lives. For those who did lose a loved one, you can never make it through an event like 9/11. But, the events that day and beyond affected all of us in some way.
From my observations, what’s different about 9/11 compared with the past 18 months and COVID-19 is that people seemed much kinder back then.
New Yorkers once had a (perhaps unfair) reputation of being pushy. But, everyone rallied around them. Even Boston Red Sox fans offered their love to New Yorkers. Here, Canadians took pride in telling the world that Americans were our best friends. 9/11 taught us not to sweat the small stuff, that family, friends and life itself are precious.
Perhaps my recollections are a bit fuzzy, but it was love and support — not anger and divide — that got most of us through 9/11.
James Miller is managing editor of The Penticton Herald.